Thursday, March 28, 2013

Last Dragonslayer review

Book talk: The world is running out of magic.  No one knows why for sure, but most think it has something to do with dragons.  There is only one dragon left, and the few psychics with any powers left all agree that its days are numbered.  On top of that, when the dragon dies, its land will be up for grabs leaving citizens, corporations, and kings willing to do anything to get a prime piece of real estate.  It's a media maelstrom: the last dragon being killed by the last dragonslayer. And somehow a young foundling named Jennifer Strange is right in the heart of it.

Rocks my socks:  Jasper Fforde is patently absurd and I love him for it.  He can never resist the chance to tweak something familiar to make it his own.  The story takes place in the Ununited Kingdoms, a mix of modern and feudal society with warring kings next to sensationalistic television news.  There is some magic left in the world, but not as much as there used to be.  My favorite imaginative and random addition is the Quarkbeast: an animal that acts a bit like a dog, but looks like it could eat metal and in fact does.  They tend to be solitary because if any two Quarkbeasts meet, they will disappear.  Jennifer Strange is a great female lead and I appreciated the way she weighed her decisions and struggled to balance her various responsibilities while remaining true to herself.   Many people tried to pressure her or take advantage of her as a young foundling girl, but she refused to let herself believe their low expectations and defied them all.

Rocks in my socks:  The story was focused on world-building more than characterization and especially considering the wonderfully large and quirky cast of characters I wish more time was spent on fleshing them out.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of humor and fantasy.  Those who enjoy Fforde's other novels or other absurd humorists like Douglas Adams will enjoy this imaginative tale.  There's almost no romance and surprisingly little violence for a book with 'dragonslayer' in the title, so I'd say it's fine for 5th and up.


Jasper Fforde has his own website with all sorts of features including the usual blog, pages for his books including this one, etc and because he is awesome he also has features like your wild library stories.  

Let Jasper Fforde take you on a tour of Hereford and tell you about the novel.  Find out how 'Old House' got its name (Spoiler alert: it may have to do with its being old and also a house)  and see the magical spokeless bicycle.  Fforde seems like he'd make a great travelling companion.  I'd totally watch a travel show hosted by him!

Source: school library

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde: Buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ash Review

Book talk:  Ash should have known better.  And perhaps she would have, if her mother had lived long enough to teach her the old ways.  But her mother did not live and she did not learn, so she spent nights by her graveside, attracting the attention of fairies.  Fairies may be beautiful and alluring, but they have little regard for human life and can be very dangerous.  For most people, attracting their attention would be disastrous, but for Ash fairies are the least of her problems.  When her father died soon after her mother, she was taken from her home to live as a servant to her step mother and sisters.  When life is barely worth living, you don't mind a little danger.  Then, Ash meets someone that makes her glad to be alive and she risks it all for one night of happiness, for a ball.  Will she be able to break free of all who make claims on her and be home before the magic wears off?

Rocks my socks:  Reading Ash was like discovering the Cinderella story all over again.  The world was similar to the classic fairy tale setting, but far richer.  Everything in the story is on edge.  The world is shifting from an age of magic to an age of reason.  Fairies still exist, but they are not what they used to be. Ash's family life keeps reaching the edge and toppling over only to regain its balance and topple once more. The huntress class straddled two worlds as well.  I enjoyed seeing how this strong female leader was necessary in the typically masculine hunting rite while other women in society remained relatively powerless. My favorite thing about the novel was the way Lo took a traditional fairy tale and subverted the assumptions that went along with it.  In most stories the supernatural figure that stalks the female lead creepily for years would be the love interest.  Or the handsome prince that falls for the lowly servant girl.  But by having Ash fall in love with someone else, someone who makes her feel strong and encourages her to pursue her strengths instead of someone looking to protect her so she can remain weak, Lo shows us just how messed up many of these traditional stories are.

Rocks in my socks: As much as I love all the added world-building and new plot developments, when I sit down to read a Cinderella story I expect to spend a fair amount of time at a ball.  The beginning of the book had a very languid pace while not much was happening, which I didn't mind except that as more things began happening the narration went too fast and glossed over events.  It seems like the reader is privy to everything that happens to Ash at the ball, but if that's true she hardly spends any time there.  Considering how much she's risking to go there it doesn't seem worth it.  Can't I have a modern feminist slant and long descriptions of pretty dresses and dancing?  Is that too much to ask?

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of fairy tales retold and strong female leads.  It's also a great book for anyone looking for GLBTQ fantasy.  The violence and romance are mostly implied, so I'd say it's safe for 6th grade and up.


Malinda Lo has a great website with a blog, a bio (with a picture of her adorable dog), and more

Lo's site also has a page specifically for Ash with an FAQ, map, playlist for the book, etc.

Malinda Lo has a trailer for the book:

There's a great fan trailer as well:

Source: Purchased

Ash by Malinda Lo: Buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Endangered Review

Book talk:  Sophie knew that she shouldn't interfere, but when she saw him on the side of the road, she had to stop.  He was still a baby, but it was clear that he had been restrained with ropes recently and he was covered with sores and bald patches.  Why, out of all the suffering she had seen that day in the Congo, this was the sight that moved her to act she'll never know.  But one thing is for sure: that baby bonobo would change her life just as much as she'd change his.

Rocks my socks:  I am a complete sucker for any story involving apes, so it's impossible for me to provide a review on this book that is by any means impartial.  That said, I absolutely loved it.  From all the time Sophie ends up spending with the Bonobos and the way their social dynamic is described to the way Schrefer resists painting issues like bushmeat trade as black-and-white and instead highlights the complications and lack of easy answers regarding the political issues plaguing the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I remembered hearing about conflict in the area as a side note when studying apes as a child, but this is the first book I've read that ties in the problems facing the humans with those facing their hairier cousins, and does it well.  It was very impactful to read about a dystopian situation that so closely resembles actual events after reading so many far-fetched science fiction ones.  The book isn't necessarily more violent than something like The Hunger Games, but it is far more realistic, which makes it all the more chilling.

Rocks in my socks:  It's a minor complaint, but the first person perspective of the book means that in order to show all the complexities of the region, our narrator has to experience a lot personally.  To believe that she went though everything she did stretches credulity a bit, but stranger things have happened in reality I'm sure.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of animal stories or dystopias.  The plot quickly resembles the kind of survival fiction under a corrupt regime that is so popular in YA fiction today, all while maintaining a strong connection to what is happening with the bonobos to keep animal lovers involved.  The book isn't sensationalistic and if anything perhaps less violent than would be realistic given the situation, but it is still has a lot of violence and death involved.  It isn't for the faint-hearted.  I'd save it for 8th grade and up.


Watch Eliot Schrefer talk about the book and play with adorable bonobos!

Eliot Schrefer also has a website with information about him and the book

The National Book Foundation has a page for the book with extras

Endangered is a contender in this year's Battle of the Kids' Books

Source: school library

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer: Buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Toys Go Out Review

Book talk:  Have you ever wondered what your toys do when you're not around?  Do they miss you when you're gone?  Or do they throw parties while you're at school?  Do they like going to show and tell?  This is the story of three toys that may not be too different from your own.  They love playing with their little girl, but when she's done the story is only beginning.

Rocks my socks:  This book is a masterpiece of understated wisdom.  Each chapter contains a different story and while each one is straight-forward and easy to follow, each contains complex lessons.  A simple story about Plastic wondering why she is different from the other toys is understandable even for young children while teaching about the importance of discovering and embracing your identity.  The toys each have distinct personalities and the way they interact with each other is a wonderful demonstration of empathy and how to get along with others.  The book is full of childlike logic without talking down to the reader.  It's aimed at a very young audience, but enjoyable for adults to read as well.  I'm not sure how Jenkins manages to accomplish all of this, but I respect her immensely for doing so.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader:  This short, engaging, easy-to-understand book would make a great first chapter book for a child learning to read.  It would also be an excellent read-aloud for younger kids.  My students love this book, and when I read it as part of my faculty/staff book club all of the adults in the room loved it as well.  Most people can remember playing with toys at some point in their lives and wondering about what they do when no one is looking.  To play with a toy is to imagine a life for it, and thinking of how that life may continue after the play session is a logical step.  Which means there's something familiar and nostalgic in stories of toys coming to life.  Perhaps that's why I was sobbing so hard at the end of Toy Story 3.


Emily Jenkins has a website with a page for the book as well as FAQ's, a bio, and a teacher resources section with discussion questions, writing prompts, a reader's theatre script and more.

Paul O. Zelinsky has a website with a page for the book and samplings of his other, delightful illustrations

Random House has a page for the book that includes a detailed reader's guide

Source: Copy provided as part of faculty/staff book club

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Code Name Verity Review

Book talk: It loos like Verity's first mission overseas may also be her last.  Her plane was hit, she was forced to parachute out, and she's blown her cover.  It didn't take long for her to break under torture at the hands of her Nazi interrogator.  Now she has one chance to set the record straight.  She's negotiated to get paper and a pen to write her story out, state secrets and all, just for the chance to tell the truth about what happened.  This is what she wrote.

Rocks my socks:  I found the historical details of the novel intriguing.  I had never thought much about what life was like in occupied France: that there were still children going to school alongside resistance workers risking their lives every day.  The role of British women in the war and female pilots was fascinating to me as well.  Both of the main characters had a lot of spunk and I appreciated that, and enjoyed reading about their friendship and exploits together.

Rocks in my socks:  As much as I usually love epistolary novels, the structure of this one just didn't work for me.  I was never able to completely lose myself in the story during the first part because I just couldn't accept the premise that this girl who was being tortured by Nazis would be allowed to use up so much paper and ink just to write about the hijinks her and her best friend got up to.  I enjoyed the book's second part much more because I found it more believable.   The end felt edgy for the sake of being edgy and then the ending went on too long for my tastes.  I felt like Wein was trying to soften the blow and it would have been stronger if it had ended earlier.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to readers who like dark historical fiction and strong female leads.  Not only is it a book about war, but the main story is told by someone who is the victim of torture so this isn't for the faint hearted.  I'd save it for high school and up.


There's a good trailer for the novel here

Elizabeth Wein has a website with more information about her books and life.

Source: School library

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: buy it or check it out today!